Annotating is a way of marking your textbook by taking key points from the text. In addition to
underlining or highlighting, you should annotate because it will help you understand and
remember information. Publishers often include wide margins in college textbooks to
encourage students to annotate.
If you only underline or highlight, you may limit your learning because they can be done without
thinking very actively. However, to annotate you must think actively. When you annotate,
you’re not only reading; you’re already beginning to study the material. This is why annotating
is more effective.
Why else should you annotate?
1. Annotating increases your concentration. It forces you to think about and clarify the
2. Annotating makes you a more active reader. Your mind can’t wander as much so you’ll
remain more focused.
3. Annotating encourages you to distinguish between the main ideas and supporting
details. When you differentiate between key concepts and supporting details, you better
understand the key concepts.
4. Annotating helps you remember important information. When you rephrase material in
your own words, you’re putting it into your long-term memory.
5. Annotating helps you monitor your learning. It forces you to select, reflect, and evaluate
what you’re reading.
6. Annotating allows quick review of important ideas. When you look through your
textbooks, you’ll be able to quickly identify important information. This helps you study for tests,
participate in class discussions, and write papers.
7. Annotating provides reference material for future classes. It’s easy to refer back to
information already learned when you need it for writing papers or preparing presentations.
8. Annotating makes it easier to locate information during an open-book test.
How do you annotate?
1. Always read with a pen in hand.
2. Annotate what’s most important:
o Main ideas (summarize stated main ideas; try to write out implied main ideas)
o Definitions (indicate with dfn in the margin)
o Examples (indicate with ex in the margin)
o Lists of reason or characteristics (number them; perhaps also summarize each one)
o Concepts that show cause and effect relationships, or similarities and differences (use arrows
to show the connections)
o Summary statements (paraphrase in the margin and circle)
o Unfamiliar words (put a box around them, or underline with a red pen)
o Signal words (circle them)
3. Annotate one section at a time. Survey the section first, and then read all the information
under the heading. Then determine what’s important to write in the margin.
4. Annotate before you underline or highlight. This will reduce the amount you’ll need to
underline or highlight.
5. Annotate in your own words, using as few words as possible. Don’t just copy. Think about
what you’re reading, and accurately paraphrase it. This helps you monitor your learning. If you
can’t write the information in your own words, then you probably don’t understand it.
6. Turn headings into questions. When you find the answer to your question, place
parentheses around the answer and write imp in the margin.
7. Number items in a list. Write out a brief heading for that list.
8. Put ? to indicate information that you do not understand.
9. Put next to information that may be important (but you’re not sure)
10. Mark important ideas with * or imp in the margin.
11. Use numbers for lists and sequences.
12. Put T next to items that are likely to be on the test.
13. Put SUM next to a summary statement
14. Use abbreviations and symbols. Develop a personalized marking system that’s
meaningful to you.
15. Write comments in the margins to help you connect the material with instructor comments
and your own experience.
16. Re-read any parts that you did not understand.